A diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease strikes fear into the heart of anyone. As a writer, it scares me to think that when I eventually retire from the day job to finally spend more time at my keyboard, this debilitating condition might rob me of the ability to string words together coherently.
I wouldn’t be the first writer to suffer in this way. It is well-known that Terry Pratchett suffers from Alzheimer’s and he has spoken publicly about the disease many times, in some ways becoming the contemporary face of Alzheimer’s. He now dictates his work, either using voice recognition software or to his PA, Rob Wilkins.
In 2009 the Guardian published an article claiming that Agatha Christie may also have been suffering from the disease towards the end of her life. Experts in Canada studied a selection of Christie’s novels written between the ages of 28 and 82 and counted the numbers of different words, indefinite nouns and phrases used in each. They discovered that Christie’s vocabulary size decreased noticeably (by between 15 to 30%) as she neared the end of her life and that her repetition of phrases and indefinite word usage (something, thing, anything) in her novels increased significantly. Agatha Christie, was never diagnosed with dementia but the authors of this study believe that the changes in her writing are consistent not with normal ageing, but with Alzheimer’s disease.
The results of the Christie study mirror those of a similar analysis of the early and late works of the novelist, Iris Murdoch. Her vocabulary had diminished in her final work and, on average, it contained fewer words and clauses per sentence. Murdoch was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s the year after her final novel was completed.
If diagnosed early there are drugs that can help the sufferers of this terrible disease but up until now the problem has been in making that early diagnosis. However, a brain scan is now being trialled by the NHS that spots the early signs of Alzheimer’s and can diagnose the disease in less than 24 hours. This would replace the often inconclusive memory tests that are currently used by doctors to spot the disease.
For those currently living with Alzheimer’s disease and those that care for them, there are aids available to make life a little bit easier, such as alarms to indicate when a sufferer has got out of bed or opened a door or window. These are available through The Disabled Shop.
One in ten people over the age of 65 will develop Alzheimer’s and more than half of those over the age of 85 will succumb to the condition. But only £12 per patient is spent annually on research into Alzheimer’s, compared with £289 per patient spent on cancer – this is an imbalance that can’t be right.
This blog post has been written in response to the Alzheimer’s Disease Blogging Competition, which is aiming to increase awareness of the disease and raise money to fight it. There’s a great list of blogging related prizes plus the chance of paid blogging assignments – if you’ve got a blog then click on the link for details of how to enter. More entrants mean a higher profile for Alzheimer’s Disease.
Alternatively, if you don’t blog, click here to make a donation.
#1 by Lexia on March 14, 2011 - 2:23 pm
Thanks for this post and for the opportunity to enter the blogging competition and help up the profile of Alzheimer’s at the same time.
#2 by Sally Jenkins on March 14, 2011 - 8:04 pm
Thanks for the comment, Lexia. I hope lots of people do enter because it’s a disease that will probably touch us all in some way during our life.
#3 by Marty on March 16, 2011 - 2:47 pm
Look forward to reading more of your blog, Sally. Interesting study of Agatha Christie’s vocabulary.
#4 by Sally Jenkins on March 16, 2011 - 6:25 pm
Marty, I’ve just had a look at your Alzheimer’s competition entry – your breadth of knowledge is amazing – well done!
#5 by Tracy Fells on March 18, 2011 - 10:39 am
Excellent blog Sally – really well put together and informative. I have first experience of Alzheimer’s and its one of the most destructive conditions so was really pleased to see you highlighting this initiative. Enthused me to check out the competition and make a donation.
Would love know to how you embed the links in your blog – looks very professional.
#6 by Sally Jenkins on March 18, 2011 - 1:13 pm
Tracy – great to see that you’re publicising the Alzeimher’s competition on your blog as well – it really is a terrible disease. By the way, the links thing is a facility within WordPress – no technical wizardry on my part!
#7 by Kate Kyle on March 19, 2011 - 9:38 am
thanks for the post and info about the competition. I’m going to enter. Although I don;t have any close relatives with AD, this illness has been on my mind for some time. One of my novels features a memory specialist and a lady with Alzheimer’s Disease.
#8 by Sally Jenkins on March 19, 2011 - 6:07 pm
Kate – good luck with your competition entry. Your novel sounds intriguing – hope it does well!
#9 by Jm Jast on March 23, 2011 - 8:42 am
Hi Sally, just popped in to thank you for the comment on my blog and most of all for your own post and inspiration – I’ve read about the contest on your blog first 🙂
Good luck with competition
#10 by Kate Kyle on April 22, 2011 - 5:54 am
Congratulations on being shortlisted, Sally :))
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